This Wasn’t My Idea: A Missionary’s Thoughts on Surrender

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I.

Surrender is an interesting concept.

When we talk about Jesus and “receiving him into your heart” – an abstract, modern phrase designed to summarize the process of both agreeing that Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Son of God and paid the price for our sin through his death and resurrection and as such allowing for him to become both the Savior and the Lord of our lives – what we’re saying is that we are consciously giving up our rights because of our need for rescue.

The very nature of the word surrender, however, indicates that at one point, there was a war. There were (at least) two opposing sides, both attempting to take ground because of some severe disagreement in ideology, and there reached a point where one side could no longer keep moving forward.

Some synonyms for the act of surrender include: yielding, submitting, relinquishing, renouncing, relenting, and backing down. To surrender is to lay down one’s arms, to raise the white flag.

Surrendering says, “Enough. I cannot continue this anymore. I lay down my weapons and my plans, and I put myself and everything that was once under my authority now under your authority.”

It’s not the ideal scenario for anyone walking into a war. I can’t think of a single battle where an army hoped to surrender from the beginning.

It’s the last possible solution.

II.

I will admit it: I had other plans. Even as a young girl, though I felt called to full-time ministry, I assumed that would all figure itself out neatly and politely at a later and more collected point in my life. So while, to many others around me, my leap towards long-term missions as a young twentysomething made perfect sense – I did not exactly see it coming.

Not necessarily in my early 20s. Not necessarily as a single person. Not necessarily as a support-raising person. Not necessarily in Latin America.

In my family and the community where I grew up, I sometimes feel like the resident Looney Tune for living the life that I do. From the outside looking in, it can often appear that the decision I made to move abroad at the age of 21 was a simple (though perhaps reckless) choice for me. It both was and it wasn’t.

In many ways, it was a part of a natural progression of surrender in my own heart to the calling God placed on my life. He has not changed his mind about what he spoke to me all those years ago. Much of my life has been learning to change mine so it can agree with him.

How can a decision so large and life changing be both simple and complicated? How can it be both easy and hard?

It’s complicated and hard for obvious reasons. But it is also simple and easy for one reason – and this is what has carried me through every moment since then. It’s a no-brainer when I consider Jesus. That may sound cheesy, but that doesn’t matter because it is one of the truest statements of my life.

When I consider Jesus, when I look at his face and I see his eyes of love, when I feel his heart for the whole world, when I sense the ache of the Holy Spirit, longing for his children to come home to him, how could I not go? How could I not make myself a little uncomfortable for the sake of others knowing the peace and the joy that has profoundly altered the trajectory of my entire existence on the earth?

III.

There’s really only one response to these questions.

Admittedly, sometimes it takes me a while to get to that place, the one of giving a wholehearted and submitted yes. That’s the humanity of it. That’s the battle that still sometimes rages inside my heart.

Do I trust that what He is asking of me is also His best for my life?

There’s a grieving sometimes connected to surrender. It’s uncomfortable. That’s what makes it so hard. To a large degree, it’s giving up what you thought might be. But I gave my life up to him. I raised my white flag and I have laid down my weapons. I told him that everything that was once under my authority is now under his.

Put another way, I have already gone to my own funeral. That may sound morbid, but that’s surrender: giving up my rights. Or, perhaps instead, giving up the illusion of what I thought were my rights. If my very nature was at war with her Creator, did she actually have any rights to the kind of independent and entitled life she thought she deserved at all?

Sometimes, I have said yes while kicking and screaming, begging for God to call somebody else. Somebody, anybody, just not me. And then it occurs to me all over again – to others, we are somebody else.

IV.

The truth is, with natural eyes, I can’t exactly describe sending a timid 21-year-old fresh out of college with little professional job experience to work overseas as an amazing idea. I was just a little chicken nugget! But God spoke it, many others confirmed it, it has been drenched in his grace, and it has come to pass. Here I am, three years later, still kind of a chicken nugget, but with more of his grace covering my life than I ever imagined possible.

This very fact humbles me every day.

If I don’t tell you that following Jesus is going to cost you everything, I’m lying to you. But if I don’t also tell you that following Jesus is going to GIVE YOU EVERYTHING, I’m also lying to you. It’s a matter of perspective, this issue of surrender. What is “everything,” anyway? Who gets to decide what that means?

I think a lot of our walk with God is about adjusting and healing our understanding of the world so that our eyeballs see what he has been seeing all along. All the stuff he has asked me to give up has been worth it because he has given me tenfold of the things that really matter.

And in light of that, how could I ever say no?

V.

The larger journey of my life has been a closing of that gap. You know the gap, the one between Saying Yes and then Actually Doing The Thing I Said Yes To. I would guess that in each of our journeys with God, that’s the way he grows us up – it’s how we mature in him.

I have had more conversations with God about this than I can count. Perhaps it is because I can be a slow and stubborn learner. I tend to die a slow death when it comes to my own will.

But it’s a fascinating tension, the one that is held between This Wasn’t My Idea and But Somehow It Makes My Heart Sing. I am still learning how to describe that place inside of myself, but the best way I can imagine it is as if all of these things were seeds planted deep in my heart’s garden a long time ago, and at the right time, they began to bloom.

For a long time, I was staring at dirt. Those flowers weren’t transplanted from another place, foreign to the soil of my own makeup – rather, they were there all along, waiting to grow. It was just a matter of time, a question of when I would finally let the rain do its work.

I think of the old Baptist hymns that color my early years, songs like “I Surrender All” and “There’s Room at the Cross For You.” I close my eyes and see beige carpet and wood paneling and floral skirts and stained glass windows and an alter that consists of three steps up to the place where my pastor would stand in prayer at the pulpit.

I hold those years close to my heart, even in all their complexity, and cherish what it meant for my life to have older believers teach me how to walk with Jesus and trust in his goodness, especially through the tender chapter of my teenage years.

Surrender is ongoing. It is and always will be a matter of the heart.

And I whisper to him the promise once again: yes, I will go. Send me, send me. Make me a conduit of your peace.

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